First you have to define your scope, develop your initial project plan, and get your team together. What comes second? Usually the inclination is to start working on your planned project activities. But who are your allies, the ones who will turn your project into success?

You need to hit pause, briefly.

That’s because the second thing you need to do is take time identify who your allies are within the organization, and identify who could stand between you and project success. After all, whatever project objectives you have, it’s people in the rest of organization that have to make these objectives come to life. Otherwise all you have is a bunch of documents.

“But we have identified our sponsors and steering committee”, I hear you say. Good. That’s part of the first step. But are you sure each person is behind you and supports you 100%? Are you sure they will stay that way throughout the project? None of them will change their opinion mid-way because someone lobbied them hard? If you are still sure, how sure? What would you bet? $100? Your job? Your reputation as a project manager?

The reality is that people cannot be counted on 100%, and certainly not throughout the life of the project. Sponsors can change their minds. They do – all the time.

So what can you do? Simple – ask three questions.

Question #1: Who will be most impacted by your project?

You have probably thought of this one. It’s a common one. However, the next two after this one aren’t.

Still, you have to ask this one. You have to be able to answer who will be highly impacted (major change to job); who will be moderately impacted (need to do some things in their job differently); and who will be lightly impacted (not much will change for them, if anything).

The more impacted a person’s job is going to be, the more anxious that individual will be, and the more likely it is that they will want to slow things down. This is so that they can understand things better, try to reduce the impact, or plan how to personally respond to a negatively perceived event. None of this works in your favour.

However, it does provide you with insight where you may want to look for more open minded, optimistic individuals who could become your allies.

Question #2: Who wields the most clout regarding my project?

Not everyone asks this one. And it’s arguably more important than the first.

The reason that people often don’t ask this one is that they assume that the higher up a person is in an organization, the more power they have. And therefore, the more influence over your project they have. As a result they placed these individuals on the steering committee. Job done.

As with most assumptions, this one is dangerous because it’s partially true. But not completely, not always.

On an IT implementation, the most important project sponsor regarding IT selection would be the CIO, right? Well…we were surprized to find  that a middle manager in an organization, where we were implementing an IT solution, had more clout than the CIO when it came to making a technology selection. The CIO deferred to him!

What we discovered was that this completely unassuming IT support middle manager, someone very easy to overlook, sat on multiple technology associations in the city and region we were working in. And he led some of them! So locally, and within his company, he was seen as a technology expert, guru, and thought leader. The CIO really looked up to him and followed his recommendations.

So, although frequently the bigger the title, the more powerful the individual, that is not always the case. You have to test it. You have to take time to identify them.

Is their influence related to your project?

Another wrinkle here is, they may have the title, but may not have much clout directly over your project. For example, back to the CIO, if you are doing a process streamlining project in supply chain, how impactful is the CIO in this case? Usually it’s not very much (but check and validate!).

So, you have to ask the question this way: who could stop my project cold (either by edict or by refusing to cooperate); who could cause me a lot of work and extra grief, but can’t stop the project (i.e., who could fight a war of attrition); and who is basically an order taker and has to do as told?

With these two questions answered you know where to focus your energies.

Question #3: Who needs to be supportive, how much, and where do they stand today?

If the answers to the previous two questions led you to where you need to focus your attention, the answer to this one will tell you how much work you have to do.

If the individual needs to be cheerleading and pushing people to do the work required, and they are already sold (just not that enthusiastic yet), then you have only a little more work to do. You have to convince them to shift from being a friendly ally to motivating leader and role model.

If the individual needs to be cheerleading but currently barely heard about your project, then you have your work cut out for you. And, considering people need time to process the change, impacts to them and their organization, and everything else, you better get going real soon!

First someone has to educate them so that they are fully aware. Then at some point they are going to start objecting, and may even get somewhat angry. Don’t despair – that’s a good thing! That means that the penny is finally dropping and they are understanding what this truly means for them. It also indicates that they are engaged – they are investing emotional energy!

If anything, beware the calm, silent type. Quite often, that is a sign of denial or outright apathy. There is no energy on engagement here, and if anything there is active disengagement (if that is not a contradiction in terms). This individual will leave you in the lurch at a critical point in your project. You actually want to provoke them to get them angry, to get some sort of active response. Just do so carefully.

Now you’re set to go!

Answering these three questions will tell you whom to focus on, and how much time and energy you have to spend. Always leave room in your schedule for identifying and working with your potential allies and detractors. Label these as “support building activities” or something, and schedule them into your plan. They are more important than some of your technical or process tasks.

If you do this right you can almost ensure a successful implementation.

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